Hanno Pevkur: I will not run for chairman

PHOTO: Eero Vabamägi

Infighting in the Reform Party has gained considerable momentum. Siim Kallas wants a new chairman, while Hanno Pevkur has proposed an in-house election in January. Pevkur now admits he would support Kaja Kallas should she decide to run for chairman.

Let us look back at your party’s chairman election a year ago. Were the Kallases playing a double game by supporting you so they could roll out Kaja Kallas a year later?

The board and chairman election a year ago gave members a fundamental choice between the status quo and opting for openness and more inclusive management. I was elected chairman with 1,048 votes against 635. I believe that Kaja Kallas feels as I do in that leadership can only be based on open in-house democracy, as opposed to machinations and secret deals. I know Kaja as honest, smart, and true to her word.

Was it Siim Kallas’ plan? What would he have to gain?

You’ll have to ask him that. Many members were baffled to read how the honorary chairman praises the Center Party and criticizes the previous coalition that was led by the Reform Party.

It seems to me Siim Kallas is simply bored. As an undisputed luminary of Estonian politics, he clearly does not want to retire just yet, while the position of Viimsi rural municipality mayor is not high-octane enough. That is why I understand his impatience in doing and saying things that often leave behind a considerable mess. It’s simple: if there’s something on your mind, come and talk about it!

You were not left with the impression he is no longer sure of you when you last met?

We looked each other in the eye and talked. Siim did not suggest in any way he wants a replacement for me. He said everything was fine and that we should move forward. Now, his position is the opposite.

I think that by stating that the party needs a new chairman Kallas did a disservice to his daughter. Kaja Kallas will be prime minister of Estonia sooner or later; however, the eagerness with which her father is trying to pave the way for her political career makes it look rather tasteless and artificial.

You want the election to take place already in January. Do you believe your chances will be better in muddy waters?

Everyone on the board understands that electing a new chairman and board in January of 2019 (a few months prior to Riigikogu elections – ed.) is not sensible. We are left with two choices: to extend the mandate of the current board and chairman beyond parliamentary elections or hold an extraordinary board and chairman election.

As chairman, I think we cannot afford to put on a drama series called “The Reform Party searches for a chairman candidate” in the media over the next seven months. When Laine Randjärv and Urmas Kruuse, for example, said we need an extraordinary election and that it should take place in summer, I would ask: what are we waiting for? Will someone become a better candidate in those seven months? Do you wait seven months before solving a problem? You don’t!

However, these are technicalities. The real problem is not how the Reform Party is run, but how Estonia is being governed. Center’s government is living beyond its means, laying down new taxes and restrictions, dismantling our pension- and tax system that has ensured Estonia’s success etc. And it is doing those things virtually unchecked and ignoring criticism.

These are the problems we must address. Not to mention that the Center Party has turned Estonia into a boring Eastern European state in the periphery as, in addition to gambling away our digital and tax advantages, Jüri Ratas’ government wants to maintain a Russia policy that is level in all aspects.

Are things really that bad?

Allow me to give another example. The party’s Tallinn municipal media refers to Ukraine as a “bastard country” – where do we go from here? Will the next call be for the reformation of the Soviet Union? Friends, this is not the Estonia we have spent years building.

One more thing. I have been saying since summer how we are too tolerant of Tallinn city government taking hundreds of thousands of tax euros to the PBK that the Estonian internal security service has described as a hostile mouthpiece of the Kremlin.

I have repeatedly proposed giving 500,000 euros currently spent on centrists badmouthing Estonia in front of Russian viewers to ETV+. A network created expressly for tearing away Russian viewers from the Kremlin.

The proposal was not seriously covered even by ERR itself, which shows how accustomed we have become to the Center Party’s machinations and corrupt double agenda that has not disappeared even after Edgar Savisaar left the stage.

I wholeheartedly agree with Raul Rebane in today’s Postimees (the interview took place on Tuesday – ed.) that all manner of payments to Russian networks need to be ceased for it is politically absurd and unethical. But that is not all. The public is probably not aware of this, but information I have suggests the government has decided to pursue EV 100 advertising campaign on PBK. Where to next? What next?

Let us come back to the Reform Party. Does your statement suggest Kallas plans to return to Estonian politics much sooner than 2019 that she has said will be the year of her return from the European Parliament?

Like I said, we cannot afford to spend the next seven months on an in-house election. We need to think of Estonia and the choices we face. No politician should love power so dearly it gets in the way of the main goal. The future of our country is the only thing that matters.

The Reform Party needs a calm and businesslike atmosphere if it wants to win the 2019 elections. We do not have one today. What we have is a peculiar situation where people are talking about the need for an in-house election while looking to postpone it. This only benefits our competitors.

I’m more than convinced that the Reform Party cannot win the next election while at war with itself. Estonia deserves better than the current government’s destructive policy. Unfortunately, what I see in the Reform Party is continued intrigue, ill will, and implacability of a small group of people, regardless of how it’s made to look.

The fate of Estonia and the party is much more important to me than clutching to my position. That is why I propose we, including people harboring blind anger for me and Kaja, cease all intrigue and unite behind Kaja Kallas to try and win the next election as a united team.

Do I understand you correctly in that you would support Kaja Kallas for chairman?

Yes.

You say there has been intrigue and machinations. Has Kristen Michal moved against you in recent months?

Kristen Michal recently said he heard there was life outside of 24/7 politics, and that we would take a bold step in finding out whether that’s true. Perhaps the private sector needs snowman designers. I wish him luck in any case.

You are being sarcastic. Do you see his actions as vengeance?

Listen, I don’t think Kristen Michal will see all his dreams fulfilled when he finds Hanno Pevkur’s head in Santa’s bag. It is clear he will tire of playing with it soon enough. Being serious now, I think we are done over-mystifying my argument with Kristen. That’s it.

So be it. What mistakes have you made as chairman?

Of course I’ve made mistakes, as it’s clear no one is born to run a party. Especially one that finds itself in the opposition for the first time in 17 years. A party that is still in shock and the leadership of which is full of strong personalities. Perhaps I have expected initiative from others and failed to realize that in the opposition I should have paid more attention to finding motivation and injecting it into others.

Hindsight is 20/20, while it cannot take us forward. What takes us forward are new ideas and visions. I’m glad the next board will have three representatives from our regional organizations, following my proposal. That we are working on our program, and everyone in Estonia can send in ideas of how to make Estonia better through our website.

I believe that ideas I have proposed in interviews, speeches, or articles over the past year will help make Estonia a better country. Whether it’s personalized governance where help is first made available to those that need it and the corresponding merging of local government and state databases, or healthcare funding that’s attached to the person and depends on health behavior. Cutting bureaucracy and legislation in half and realizing that public funds are public.

Restoration of a simple tax system, allowing natural-born citizens to have double citizenship, allowing private money in higher education, with the introduction of the so-called work university. And of course, ending nationality-based antagonism.

We have a single Estonia to care for and build. Our home has our rules, but the Estonia of the future can only be an open one.

Why haven’t you, as the opposition leader, criticized Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson in recent days?

It was a conscious choice. Despite being in the opposition and tasked with criticizing the government, we are human too. At first, we believed Kadri Simson was not connected to her partner’s activities, and we believed it right to keep private and work life separate.

By now, it has become clear Simson played an important part in organizing support for pig farmers, and that a company tied to Soorm managed to secure the maximum support amount based on inside information. In addition, the PM has distorted the truth as concerns Simson's participation in support negotiations, while Kadri Simson has not adopted a clear position in a situation where Teet Soorm and a fellow suspect accuse the prosecution of serving the interests of a private company.

It is totally inadmissible and disastrous for Estonia's reputation. It is the task of the minister, or even the prime minister to give investors certainty that Estonian investigative organs are independent. This is to say that Simson’s has lost her credibility in the eyes of the Reform Party. It is our position that Simson must resign, and if she doesn’t, we will bring a vote of no confidence against her.

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